Council tackles Dinsmoor Acres issue

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 18, 2000

The Austin City Council doesn’t want to become involved in a "political pingpong match" over Dinsmoor Acres.

Tuesday, July 18, 2000

The Austin City Council doesn’t want to become involved in a "political pingpong match" over Dinsmoor Acres.

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Jeanne Poppe, Second Ward council member and chairwoman of the council’s finance committee, said just that at Monday night’s council meeting.

Then, the council unanimously approved taking no action on a request from the Mower County Board of Commissioners to downsize the project and made a counteroffer to the county commissioners.

When the project attracted one bid and that bid was 24 percent higher than the engineer’s estimate, the county commissioners once again were forced to halt the project that would bring sanitary sewer, street improvements, water service and other utilities to the residents of a residential subdivision at the south Austin city limits in Austin Township.

To pay for the improvements, many residents faced huge assessments and appealed to the county commissioners for help. The city has said it will only allow the subdivision to be annexed into the city limits if the improvements are made and paid by anyone other than the city.

Mower County’s commissioners have not committed any money to the project so far. The project will be paid "upfront" by county monies and then repaid by taxes assessed to the property owners.

At Monday night’s meeting, David Hillier, Third District county commissioner, sought the council’s approval of a compromise agreement.

Earlier Monday, Hillier spent two hours discussing the proposal with council members.

The county wants to reduce the scope of the project by eliminating street and storm sewer portions from "city-style" proportions to township specifications.

No paved streets would be done and the roadways would remain gravel.

The annexation would be of an "old, existing" subdivision and not a "new" project, according to Hillier.

Hillier said the project’s assessments are "extremely high" and that people with property that has a market value of only $60,000 would be paying as much as $20,000 in assessments. The project can be reduced with the storm sewer modifications and restricting street improvements to township specifications and save as much as 54 percent.

Austin Township would maintain its government jurisdiction over the area.

Hillier read a letter from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which noted the subdivision’s water and sanitary sewer systems are a public health and environmental problem because they do not meet today’s standards.

The state agency asked the city to "evaluate any exceptions" it could make.

Two residents from the subdivision spoke in support of Hillier’s proposal.

Hillier reminded city officials, the county and the city have the same financial stake in the project: Neither is paying any portion of it.

When the county’s proposal was formally considered, Poppe said what has become a "political question" needs "common sense" and called it a kind of "political pingpong match."

The city’s new counterproposal was for the county to consider deferring assessments and having the project rebid after a "value engineering" is done to ascertain what could be excised from the project to make it financially feasible and meet city annexation standards.

If the project can be done with necessary, but acceptable revisions and if the city does not have to pay any share of it, it still will be annexed into the city, according to Second Ward council member Roger Boughton’s interpretation as verified by City Administrator Pat McGarvey.

Third Ward council member Dick Lang attempted to cheer up Hillier: "We’re close."

That came after a Lang suggestion that the county pour $250,000 of its undesignated reserves into the project to "solve everybody’s problem."

Hillier will take the city’s counterproposal back to the county board for its consideration of the latest offer.

As it stands now, the Dinsmoor Acres project, in any form, could not be begin this construction season under any circumstance.

New TIF project OK’d

Receiving the council’s unanimous support Monday night was a resolution authorizing a tax credit application for an 88-unit multifamily housing project in the Lone Oak Addition to be known as Murphy’s Creek.

According to McGarvey, the city’s endorsement is based upon the findings that the project meets locally identified housing needs.

The city is proposing local financial assistance for the developer, Mike Podawiltz of Podawiltz Development Corp. of St. Cloud in the form of a Tax Increment Financing district.

Podawiltz could quality for $1.23 million in TIF benefits for a term of 25 years among other specific requirements of the proposed TIF agreement.

The project would included 21 single-family homes for sale as well as 88 townhomes for rent.

McGarvey described the TIF financial agreement with the developer as similar to the Whittier Place project of 32 housing units.

In other action Monday night, the Austin City Council:

— Agreed to vacate a portion of Third Street NE to accommodate expansion of the Courtyard Apartments hosing project near downtown Austin. The request for the street vacation came from the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority and will include an extension of a service road along Third Street SE on the south side. Steve and Penny Arenses, co-owners of Arens Heating and Cooling, protested having to forfeit property to the south of his business location. The step taken Monday night sets in motion the process for the city to negotiate with the Arenses for the sale of property they own in the area of the former railroad right of way.

— Approved a variance from the city code limiting accessory structures to no more than 1,000 square feet in an R-1 single-family residence district as requested by Peter L. Jacobsen, 500 Sixth St. SW. The Austin Planning Commission had recommended approval.

— Tabled action on a variance request from Theoni Lecakis, 1209 Ninth St. NW, to build a garage that would violate the city code’s minimum corner side yard setback of 12 feet 6 inches in a single-family residence district. Council members Neil Fedson, First Ward, and Dick Lang, Third Ward, want to examine the site. The Austin Planning Commission had recommended approval.

— Continued a public hearing for the Cooperative Response Center Inc. project until Aug. 7. According to McGarvey, the CRC project needs more soil borings for analysis and engineering recommendation. The public hearing will be to decide on a business subsidy agreement, involving both a contract for private redevelopment and a loan from the city to CRC.

— Approved street closings for the Crazy Days promotion by Austin retailers on Thursday.